WASHINGTON, DC – Seeking to make higher education more affordable and accessible for students and postsecondary education achievable for more Americans, U.S. Senator Jack Reed, along with U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), are teaming up to introduce the Partnerships for Affordability and Student Success (PASS) Act (S. 2054).  This bipartisan legislation would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to reestablish a federal-state partnership for increasing need-based aid, provide grants to institutions to improve student outcomes and reduce college costs, and build public accountability for institutions of higher learning.

“College is expensive.  Today, too many hard-working young people and their families are falling behind as they try to pay for their degrees that were supposed to help them get ahead.  The PASS Act will help make a college degree more affordable and accessible by reinvigorating the federal-state partnership for higher education with an emphasis on need-based grant aid,” said Senator Reed.  “During the sixties and seventies, a combination of low in-state tuition and federal and state need-based grants meant students did not have to mortgage their future to earn a college degree.  That is not true today.  Over 43 million Americans now owe more than $1.6 trillion in student loans.  Today’s students should have the same opportunity as previous generations.”

“Education plays a vital role in opening the doors of opportunity to all Americans, but the rising cost of a college education threatens to close those doors to many families across the country,” said Senator Collins.  “Our bipartisan bill would help alleviate such financial strains by expanding need-based financial aid and creating a federal-state partnership program to improve state educational attainment, college access, affordability, and completion.”

Reed noted that the federal government is unable to resolve the current crisis on its own, and that: “States are critical partners in making college accessible, affordable, and accountable.  However, state funding for higher education is lower today than it was before the onset of the Great Recession.  According to the latest State Higher Education Finance report published by the State Higher Education Executive Officers, public colleges and universities have become more reliant on tuition dollars for their operations.”

Today, in half of the states, tuition accounts for more than half of all higher education revenue.  Moreover, the only federal-state partnership program for need-based financial aid – the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) program – has not received appropriations since Fiscal Year 2010.

Under the PASS ACT, in exchange for new federal investment, states must make a commitment to maintain their investment in higher education and have a comprehensive plan for higher education with measurable goals for access, affordability, and student outcomes.  At least half of the funding must be dedicated to need-based student financial aid.  States also have the option of awarding grants to colleges and universities or partnerships between institutions of higher education and non-profit organizations to improve student outcomes, including enrollment, completion, and employment, and to develop innovative methods for reducing college costs.

The PASS Act is supported by the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Association of Community College Trustees, and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

PASS ACT: Key Provisions

State Formula Grant -- The Partnership for Access and Student Success Act establishes a state formula grant program to improve college access, affordability, and completion.  Funds are distributed to states based on poverty and college attainment.  Funds are to be used for the following activities:

  • Need-based grant aid.
  • Grants to institutions of higher education or partnerships between institutions of higher education and non-profit organizations to support activities that seek to improve student outcomes, including enrollment, completion, and employment, and to develop innovative methods for reducing college costs.
  • Public accountability and consumer information – no more than 8 percent of the funds may be used for providing public accountability and consumer information on the performance of institutions of higher education in the state.

Matching Requirement States must provide one dollar for every two federal dollars.

Eligibility - To be eligible for formula grants, states must:

  • Meet maintenance of effort requirements and use federal funds to supplement and not supplant state funding for higher education;
  • Fulfill the state’s program integrity role for the student aid programs; and
  • Have or develop a comprehensive plan for postsecondary education that is aligned with the elementary and secondary education plan for the state and the workforce and economic development plan of the state.  This comprehensive plan must include measurable goals for student outcomes and college affordability.

Annual Report – Each state receiving funds is required to report annually to the public on its progress in meeting its postsecondary education goals. The report must include:

  • Information on student outcomes, including enrollment and completion rates, disaggregated by race, ethnicity, disability status, and socio-economic status;
  • Information on workforce outcomes of graduates;
  • Information on college costs, including tuition increases, student debt, and the availability of need-based aid; and
  • Information on higher education-related consumer complaints reported to the state.